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Steven Frischling
Live: HVN
Work: JFK-SFO-CDG-HKG
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Steven Frischling, aka: Fish, is globe hopping professional photographer, airline emerging media consultant working with large global airlines and founder of The Travel Strategist. Fish has racked up more than 1,000,000 miles since he started to track his mileage in 2005.

Fish's travel tends to be less than leisurely, including flying from New York to Basrah, Iraq, for six hours; Hong Kong for eight hours, Kuwait City for two hours and traveling around the world in 3.5 days to shoot a series of photo assignments in 4 cities and 4 countries on 3 separate continents.

Fish grew up at the end of New York's JFK International Airport's Runway 4R/22L, which probably explains his enjoyment of watching planes, fly overhead. When not shooting photos or traveling Fish designs camera bags, hones is expertise on airline security and spends his time at home cheering for the Red Sox with his 3 kids 102 yards from the ocean.

Did The TSA & JetBlue Deny Travel For Looking Muslim During Ramadan? Nope

This past Thursday afternoon I began receiving emails alerting me to a disturbing blog post by Aditya Mukerjee regarding his being detained by the Transportation Security Administration then denied boarding of a flight by JetBlue.  Mr. Mukerjee’s story of being a Hindu mistaken for a Muslim, then singled out, separated and questioned for three hours is a horrendous tale.   I was initially approached by his supporters, and put in touch with him, to help spread his story … however … once I began researching the story, his detailed blog post began to unravel. The details I uncovered lead to this post.

 

On the 3rd of August 2013, Aditya Mukerjee arrived at New York’s JFK International Airport Terminal 5 to board JetBlue flight 323, a 12:08pm flight to Los Angeles.  His experience inspired him to write a blog post on the 22nd of August that went viral: Don’t Fly During Ramadan

 

The start of this story, as reported by Mr. Mukerjee in his post, remains undisputed.  At 10:40am, while standing in the security screening line, Mr. Mukerjee was handing his identification and boarding documents to a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Travel Document Checker when he was handed a slip which is used to track the length of security lines.  As Mr. Mukerjee approached the TSA screening area he chose to opt-out from the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanner screening at 11:08am, which is entirely his right, instead choosing to walk through a metal detector followed by being patted-down and tested for trace explosives.  Following a pat down by a TSA Transportation Security Officer (TSO), the Officer swabbed his gloves for Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) and the test alarmed as positive.   False positives with ETD are not uncommon.

 

From that point, Mr. Mukerjee’s version of what he encountered and the story told by multiple people from multiple security and law enforcement agencies and JetBlue diverge.

 

After the ETD swab alarmed as a positive alert for explosive trace detection, (keeping in mind that false positives with ETD are not uncommon), Mr. Mukerjee claims he was thought he was being selected for a “random check” when he was asked to step into a private room for screening (but we’ll get back to that).   Typically, a secondary ETD swab is done out in the open.  however this is where winding back the clock on what lead-up to this initial first conflict is useful …

 

… an interview with someone within the TSA, at JFK Terminal 5, revealed that Mr. Mukerjee appears to have been flagged by the Behaviour Detection Officer (BDO) while in line for what appeared to be unusual behaviours.  As the official Incident Report makes no mention of the BDO’s involvement it is impossible to assess what caught the Officer’s attention, but the TSA source indicates Mr. Mukerjee was already on someone’s radar before he chose to opt-out.

 

An interview with the aforementioned TSA employee confirmed initial TSO statements that Mr. Mukerjee became verbally aggressive when he was informed the ETD test would be repeated. Mr. Mukerjee contends that he was immediately asked to step into a private room for screening.   Both Mr. Mukerjee and the TSA are in agreement that a Supervisory Transportation Security Officer was brought into the situation when Mr. Mukerjee refused additional screening; as well the Port Authority Police were called because of Mr. Mukerjee behaviour as noted by multiple Transportation Security Officers and the Supervisory Transportation Security Officer involved.

 

It would appear that a series of events lead to Mr. Mukerjee initially being asked to step away from the screening checkpoint and enter a private screening room.     These events include Mr. Mukerjee becoming further agitated and aggressive after testing positive for explosives, as well as him repeatedly reaching for his not-yet-manually-searched bag.

 

Mr. Mukerjee contends he asked to leave the screening area and return to the pre-security section of the terminal, with the intention of simply stepping back in line and going through screening again, but was not allowed.  This is absolutely correct, at this time he was in limbo, he was not being detained, but he could not leave.  A person cannot simply leave the security area of any airport once they are on the airside but have not satisfactorily completed screening.  Once a person has passed through security, but is not cleared to fly and then chooses to leave, such as Mr. Mukerjee, s/he must be escorted out of the secure area (and usually the terminal).

 

Typically, a passenger exit from the airside of a terminal is not directly next to the screening checkpoint lane. Should a person who has not been cleared by security seek to leave, they may not co-mingle with anyone else who has been cleared for a variety of security reasons.

 

Mr. Mukerjee claims that, after asking for his backpack in an attempt to leave the screening area, he was told he could leave, with an escort, but his backpack must remain with the TSA.  However,multiple statements by TSA personnel reference Mr. Mukerjee repeatedly grabbing for his bag after he was told not to touch it.  When someone is acting unusual, alarms for explosives and then starts grabbing for their bag against instruction by security personnel, security and law enforcement pays attention.   Before Mr. Mukerjee’s bag would be allowed into the terminal — even with an escort to leave the terminal– it would need to be cleared.

 

As this point the Port Authority Police arrived at the security checkpoint and made contact with Mr. Mukerjee (it should be noted that while Mr. Mukerjee claims the New York City Police were involved, they were not and have no jurisdiction in the airport).  Mr. Mukerjee elected to continue with the TSA screening process, at which time the Port Authority Police assisted the TSA in escorting Mr. Mukerjee to a private screening room.

 

Once in the private screening area, Mr. Mukerjee was swabbed for explosives trace detection multiple times and those swabs were tested in multiple machines, by a Transportation Security Specialist – Explosives (TSS-E). Each time Mr. Mukerjee tested positive for trace elements of explosives.  While false positives are not unusual for ETD,  it is unusual a person and their items could fail so many times using different testing equipment.

 

During this process, the interviewing of Mr. Mukerjee began and his outward demeanor is noted continually, in nearly every person’s statements, as aggressive evasive, or both, in the official incident report.

 

Mr. Mukerjee was interviewed by multiple people, in the presence of multiple people.  During that time, official reports indicate that Mr. Mukerjee provided different answers to different people for the same questions – textbook suspicious behavior.   Among those to interview Mr. Mukerjee were multiple Transportation Security Officers, a Supervisory Transportation Security Officer, a Transportation Security Manager, a Transportation Security Specialist – Explosives, an Assistant Federal Security Director for Law Enforcement, a Lead Transportation Security Officer, Port Authority Police Officers, a Department of Homeland Security Special Agent, two agents assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force and a representative from JetBlue Corporate Security.

 

In Mr. Mukerjee’s post he weaves a fairly detailed story of how he was interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), however the FBI was never called, never on scene nor made contact with Mr. Mukerjee. This is confirmed by not only the Incident Report, but sources within the TSA as well as by the FBI, which has no record of any of its Special Agent being involved in the incident.

 

After hours of intense questioning, Mr. Mukerjee claims the TSA was going to clear him to fly when JetBlue refused to let him fly that day, instead offering to book him on a flight the following day.   This is not entirely accurate.  The TSA had not yet made a determination on whether or not Mr. Mukerjee would be allowed to fly that day and, as a result, JetBlue informed him that he would not be allowed to fly on that day.

 

JetBlue’s Corporate Security, who had been aware of the situation and interviewed Mr. Mukerjee, also described him as aggressive in the official incident report.   The determination of the airline, on which JetBlue’s corporate communications cannot comment, is that Mr. Mukerjee could pose a problem in flight due to his highly agitated demeanor.   He was not viewed as a terrorist threat, but a potential risk similar to that of an intoxicated person on a flight … which typically results in a 24-hour “cooling-off period before a passenger is allowed back on an aircraft.

 

While Mr. Mukerjee states he was allowed to leave the room he was being held in at 2:20pm EST, multiple reports have him being escorted out of JFK’s Terminal 5 at 2:00pm.

 

What gets me in this story is this … Mr. Mukerjee believes he was targeted for looking like a Muslim flying during Ramadan.  However on any given day, the TSA and Port Authority Police at JFK interact with passengers departing on non-stop flights to and from Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait City, Lagos, Istanbul, Jeddah, Riyadh, Casablanca, Amman and Tashkent.

 

On the 3rd of August, Mr. Mukerjee’s incident was the only one of its kind reported at JFK International with thousands of passengers who would have matched the profile of simply “looking Muslim” during Ramadan. The bold title of Don’t Fly During Ramadan seems patently out of touch with the situation Mr. Mukerjee found himself in.

 

As for Mr. Mukerjee’s belief that law enforcement searched his apartment, there is no evidence of this at all.  Again, since it was Port Authority Police – not NYPD – who were involved with Mr. Mukerjee at the airport, and since Port Authority Police have no jurisdiction outside Port Authority-operated facilities, a search of Mr. Mukerjee’s apartment in Manhattan would have required NYPD or Federal Law Enforcement involvement.   There are no independent sources within the TSA or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) who can find any record of NYPD involvement – let alone a search of his apartment by federal authorities – and there is no incident report referencing any further action involving Mr. Mukerjee.

 

I know many people want to believe in TSA and national security conspiracies. The idea of a government collective creating a single story to keep one person down is intriguing. People will believe what they want, and yes, airport security has frequently had issues in stopping people, detaining people, missing legitimate threats and a complete lack of oversight for when things go wrong and legitimate complaints exist … but this incident does not appear to be one of those times.

 

The Department of Homeland Security simply is not organized enough to create one collaborative story against one person on the spot.  Coordinating more than a dozen official statements to essentially say the same thing, from people in different agencies and an airline also seems highly unlikely.

 

There are many “TSA Wronged Me” and “The Airline Wronged Me” stories out there every day. Most do not have the viral reach Mr. Mukerjee’s story has … however this story seems more like the memory of a scared young man, 19 days after he found himself in a frightening situation.  That situation, however, appears to be the result of his own actions and behavior – not government conspiracy.

 

As for people being up-in-arms about JetBlue denying him boarding for that day, the job of corporate security is to ensure its airline’s flights are safe. Not just safe from terrorism, but safe from people who may be belligerent to staff, who may be loud and disruptive, someone who may not be fully in control of their emotions and their judgment call is the final word on whether or not a passenger boards a flight.

 

If you’d like to draw your own conclusions, you can file a Freedom of Information Act request for the incident report, citing “Aditya Mukerjee, Detained 3-August-2013, JFK Airport, Terminal 5, TSA” with the Transportation Security Administration.

 

Happy Flying!

 

@flyingwithfish

 

58 Responses

  1. the part I didn’t understand is: Why did Jetblue ask him if he would require a special place to pray on board the aircraft? Why did Hinduism come into play during the later part of the questioning?

  2. Rarely has a blog post so infuriated me. If I or any normal person was in a similar situation, I am sure I, too, would become defensive and potentially aggressive against the abusers, aka TSA and their friends, the ridiculous repetitve questions, invasive requests for information, etc. I use both terms as defensiveness may be taken as aggressiveness by the TSOs with too much training, but little intelligence or background to correctly perceive threats.

    Regardless of exactly what happened when in the discussions, did B6 say no go before the TSA or vice versa, who cares. This guy was detained for hours, denied the right to fly for no reason and their rights totally abused within the borders of the US, AGAIN. This is far from the first time such a story has emerged, and that the story, in its original form is totally believeable is a travesty.

    Your conclusion that its the guys fault is absolute nonsense, as the TSA creates an environment that causes people to tense up, to be defensive and aggressive. Its a self fulfilling prophecy, and they always seem to cry its the passengers fault. I have stopped believing that as a result of personal interaction at airports and elsewhere with those called TSOs, and its a disappointment that you believe their no accountability, no reponsibility responses EVERY TIME they are called to task over just such an interaction.

  3. GA

    You say “Regardless of exactly what happened when in the discussions, did B6 say no go before the TSA or vice versa, who cares.” Throwing out the facts is a problem, without the facts you have nothing.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  4. Asar,

    The best I understand, that question was not asked. While JetBlue cannot determine if that question was asked or not but its staff, it seems unlikely it was asked. That said, two people I directly questioned about this, with direct knowledge, stated they didn’t believe any one asking the questions enquired about religion, but rather the young man being questioned was the one to bring it up when he thought he was being profiled for religious reasons.

    One answer someone in corporate security at another airline sent me was “Why would anyone even ask that? It is well known that Muslim passengers go to the galley and pray during flights. This happens daily on flights all over the US and the world. There are no special accommodations anyone could possibly offer. Head to the back of a SWISS flight and in the galley you’ll find Muslims kneeling and Jews davening side by side, no accommodations for either.”

    Happy Flying!

    @flyingwithfish

  5. Do you know what never, ever happens? People in security organizations like the TSA or the police lying on incident reports or simply offering vague, keyword assessments, in order to justify their conduct in incidents like this. That never happens.

  6. “People will believe what they want, and yes, airport security has frequently had issues in stopping people, detaining people, missing legitimate threats and a complete lack of oversight for when things go wrong and legitimate complaints exist … but this incident does not appear to be one of those times.”

    Yes, you clearly believe in the TSA. I do not. If the guy was a threat he would have been stopped from flying. He was not. If a legitimate complaint does not exist here, then where?

    Your blindness warrants removing you from my reading list.

  7. Not yet convinced

    Sorry for the obvious pseudonym.

    Can you comment on whether or not he was denied water the whole time?

    If the answer is yes, then really, you may as well forget the rest of the long explanation. Combattive? Makes sense. By your own admission, he was singled out of the line on the basis of a suspicion that had no basis on anything other than gut instinct. Really, is that how we want to live our lives? How many other people were pulled aside and poorly treated, yet due to English being a second language, are denied the chance to make their story known?

    Please dispense with the conspiracy angle. No conspiracy is needed for human beings to forget inconvenient aspects of their own actions. I’ve done it, you’ve done it. Anyone with Black friends can quickly get a handful of stories of officers who have forgotten inconvenient truths. It’s normal; we all want to be good people, even when we are not.

    I’m a Muslim, who has flown without issue during Ramadan. (I actually flew with my wife and daughter just before the festival of Eid). I certainly have never been treated in that manner. That said, if I had been treated like that, I would have been combattive. I don’t see why you see that as an issue, wouldn’t you be the same if you felt you were being pulled aside based on your flavour of sky fairy?

    The subtle implication that the writer is basically a liar feels premature. My reading of the blog was not reassuring; it amounted to “I talked to people who were directly involved in a non-official manner and was told nothing happened”.

    That is to say – I am not yet convinced, but that isn’t to say I couldn’t be. I would like something more official, and independent from the airline / TSA industrial circle.

    Thank you though, for taking the time to research this issue. While I leave unconvinced, I do appreciate your efforts at piercing the fog around the issue.

  8. I wonder whether you would be able to maintain a zen like state of calmness while waiting around aimlessly at an airport after being racially profiled and asked intrusive invasive questions of no relevance. I fail to see how asking a Hindu whether hes fasting during ramadan assists security agents in making a risk assessment.

    Americans fail to recognise just how many personal liberties their willing to relinquish in return for pseudo security and peace. This entire situation could be used as a case study for everything wrong with current practicises in America and the fact that people (such as Flying Fish) have to go to such efforts to try and justify these events really concerns me. The slippery slope to fascism takes less slips than people realise.

  9. I filed a FOIA request, as you suggested:

    https://www.muckrock.com/foi/united-states-of-america-10/tsa-incident-response-reports-regarding-aditya-mukerjee-6558/

    Given that involves a lot of personal information, I also asked for more general information sans personal details:

    https://www.muckrock.com/foi/united-states-of-america-10/security-incident-reports-from-jfk-airport-august-5-6559/

    I’d be surprised if either are fulfilled with any actual information.

  10. I think Riga is placed into wrong list of cities here :-)

  11. I appreciate your treatment of this story, but it is quite common to hear suspects described as “belligerent”, “aggressive”, etc. after there’s a clear error in judgement. The FOIA allows us access (if we’re lucky) to the “official record” which often is distorted to save the faces of the officers and personnel involved. Whether or not this particular instance was represented 100% accurately by Mr. Mukerjee, the sad *truth* of the matter is that people believe this sort of thing because it’s not surprising or outlandish at all. In fact, unabashed abuse of power like this is par for the course. See: SWAT teams being deployed at a record rate and killing innocent Americans’ dogs.

    I see what you’re trying to do here, and it’s noble, but it’s also foolish, because informed public opinion on mis-steps similar the ones originally reported in Mr. Mukerjee’s blog post are fairly commonplace.

  12. One thing that stands out in Mr. Mukerjee’s comments is the fact that he has been denied water for several hours. What would be the reason for that? He might throw it on someone’s face? Repeatedly lying “you’ll be here only for a few minutes” while denying even a bit of water seems more likely to enrage someone than to help them calm down.

  13. Interesting to have another view point but this
    ” at this time he was in limbo, he was not being detained, but he could not leave. ” is bizarre.

    “cannot leave without the permission of people forcing to stay” is the definition of “detained”.

    If you are in a room and people force you to stay there against your will, you are being detained. This bit of doublespeak weakens an otherwise attention worthy article.

  14. “Each time Mr. Mukerjee tested positive for trace elements of explosives. While false positives are not unusual for ETD, it is unusual a person and their items could fail so many times using different testing equipment.”

    “Mukerjee appears to have been flagged by the Behaviour Detection Officer (BDO) while in line for what appeared to be unusual behaviours.”

    “Mr. Mukerjee provided different answers to different people for the same questions – textbook suspicious behavior. ”

    Was this guy a terrorist on dry run? From the article it would seem like the most likely scenario.

  15. So what you’re saying that is someone who wasn’t a terrorist threat was detained for 4 hours and denied travel, but this is ok because he apparently was agitated and some of the agency names in his story are incorrect?

    As for the multiple reports of him being ‘aggressive’ that is law enforcement 101 for justifying a questionable stop, it doesn’t surprise me at all that all of the people involved made the same claim in an official document that might be used in a lawsuit against them.

    As for the claim that JFK sees thousands of Asian passengers a day, this has a touch of ‘some of my best friends are black’ excuse. Clearly race played a part in this, it may not have been the whole of it, but a white elderly woman getting agitated about being taken off to a side room and leaving their stuff with the TSA would not get this treatment.

    I’d have more faith in your story if the sources you cited would go on record on this at the moment it seems like anonymous butt covering and victim blaming.

  16. You are completely full of shit and this article contains not one fact worth the bits itstaking up on the internet.

  17. Hi,

    I was detained/held by the TSA as I document in this post:
    http://blog.erratasec.com/2010/11/i-was-just-detained-by-tsa.html

    It’s from 2010, but would it be possible to FOIA that incident? How would I go about doing that?

    The reason I ask is that I was pleasant the entire time (well, except for one point near the end, as I document). I consciously tried to exclude affability and pleasantness — all while denying their request to delete photos from my phone. I never reached for my bag, nor reached for my phone (which contained the disputed pictures). Again, I remember this distinctly, as it was a very conscious decision on my part.

    I suspect, however, that their report will not reflect my pleasant behavior. By definition, when there is a conflict, they will see the other side as being combative and aggressive. I would love to FOIA this incident and see what they report.

    The thing is, I’m not sure if my name will be on the report. I don’t remember them checking my name afterwards. Are there other criteria that I can request in order to FOIA this?

  18. The author is a media consultant for airlines. Nuff said.

  19. It’s to be expected from a paid consultant for the airline that they’d whitewash the incident and pretend as if he wasn’t targetted specifically for appearing muslim, the added questioning, the target during Ramadan, and “behavioral detection officers” might just be the most Orwellian 3 word phrase that I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading. I hope he sues immediately.

  20. Jesse,

    I build social media strategies and ecommerce solutions for the travel industry, however I have been covering aviation security since November 15 2001 and the TSA since November 19 2001. Some days I tear into the TSA, some days I defend them, there is no slant to my coverage. I have broken some very negative stories on the agency and had some very big run-ins with the agency , but none of that colours by view when I research a story.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  21. Sonic,

    I build social media strategies and ecommerce solutions for the travel industry, and you should do your homework on my coverage of the TSA for the past nearly 13 years.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  22. Robert

    You need to make a FOIA request with your name, exact date and location. If you were detained your ID would have been checked, but you may have been detained by law enforcement not the TSA.

    I have been detained by both the TSA and Law Enforcement for shooting photos in terminals, which is well documents on this blog. The incident report for my incident at Hartford Bradley Airport was through the State Police not the TSA.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  23. Jeff,

    I have been covering aviation security since Sept 15 2001 and the TSA since Nov 19 2001. I have repeatedly covered the agency in both a positive and negative manner, published security directives and called out the agency using their own internal info. I get this info from sources I have built over a decade of coverage.

    If you name your sources no one will ever be yours source again. You may want to read a little deeper than one post on the agency.

    Happy Flying

    -Fish

  24. Ravi,

    Initially he was not detained, he was awaiting an escort to leave the secure area. As the exit is not next to the entrance and he had not been cleared he needed to be escorted out of the airside of the the terminal. He freely admits he then submitted to the additional screening, at which time there were inconsistencies in the information he provided, which lead to him being detained and questioned.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  25. Seppo,

    Riga ended up listed because it is served by Uzbekistan Airways from New York’s JFK Int’l Airport and Uzbekistan has a more than 95% Muslim population. You are correct though, neither Riga or Latvia are predominantly Muslim places.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  26. Flying Fascist,

    Point of order here, I have been detained by the TSA and told point blank I was not free to leave the terminal, the TSA at one point because of my coverage of them sent two Federal Agents to my house three times in two days resulting in them taking my laptop and destroying my hard drive, he TSA has left evidence of illegally being in my email looking for my sources.

    So, I know what it is like to be on the wrong end of this, this is all well documented by myself and other journalists (Wired has photos of a TSA Special Agent at my front door returning my laptop).

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  27. Not yet convinced,

    I did ask the two TSA sources I spoke directly with about the water because it comes up more than once in the original blog post and neither can recall one way or another. One source did plainly state that he does not recall him being asked about religion, but rather he brought religion into the conversation once he thought he was being singled out for looking Muslim.

    I am not sure I can ever determine that information, but if that is what happened, it is an interesting piece of info.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  28. So Justin,

    You think that a total of 16 people from multiple security and law enforcement agencies and an airline all picked one person at random for a conspiracy? Yes you may get one, two or even three people huddled up to make sure their stories all match, but to get 13 in a single report , all writing independent statements that all line up? That is A) Unlikely B) A conspiracy.

    There was no arrest, no need to cover up an incident, a person was stopped for multiple reasons, questioned, released. The report was filed that day, the 3rd of August, the blog post appeared the 22nd of August. You believe these 13 people thought “in 19 days a blog post may go viral” ?

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  29. BFrankley,

    Try going through Flying With Fish and reading my coverage of the TSA over the past years, tell me how blind you think I am to the agency given my often unflattering coverage of the agency.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  30. It is simply not possible to express in words the emotions one goes through when you are singled out “for further screening”. Anyone with a brown skin would understand what I mean. I am from India and have visited USA about 5 times, visits happened both before and after 9/11. Every single time I boarded a flight in USA, I was “Randomly” chosen for “further screening”. After going through the torture, even the co-passengers look at you with suspicion. How to you sit through a flight for several hours in those circumstances? I couldn’t take the humiliation any more and returned to homeland. I am a first class citizen here. And we don’t humiliate American visitors either.

  31. You weren’t there. Fact is the guy was held and denied water while being treated rudely unless you just want to come out and call him a liar. Oh, but the agents “don’t recall” that and others are able to fly no problem so that just makes it ok? He must have done something wrong right? And why did he opt out? Multiple government agents said he was acting aggressive? What a surprise.

    “You think that a total of 16 people from multiple security and law enforcement agencies and an airline all picked one person at random for a conspiracy?”

    You really don’t get it. One person, maybe two picked him. From there everyone else just follows suit and makes assumptions and it snowballs into a comedy. One person just needs to say he was acting “aggressive” and that’s the term that the rest of them will use. This is basic psychology. They write and match up their reports everyday. Shocked by the ignorance of this post.

  32. “If you name your sources no one will ever be yours source again. You may want to read a little deeper than one post on the agency. ”

    I’m sorry, but that’s just absurd. People professing the official government line are not in a weak position, and should never be given the cover of anonymity. You’re contrasting public statements by an alleged victim with unsourced, anonymous statements from the establishment; statements we’re somehow supposed to trust.

    Unfortunately, it’s not just bloggers like you doing it but the vast majority of current day US press. Gone are the days of real journalism.

  33. Filipe,

    I am a journalist who writes a blog. In my career I have worked for major newspapers, wire services, agencies and good luck having someone send you documents, such as security directives, if they know they will be named.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  34. It seems like this is a lot of conjecture that could be easily solved by reviewing the video tape. The screening area is all covered by many cameras and it would be poor form to not have the interrogation rooms be covered with cameras as well. Both sides can make up stories but the tale of the tape is much more difficult to alter.

    As for Mr. Mukerjee’s story, some of his story seems pretty far out. His apartment being searched? The NYPD would need a warrant for this and that would be public record. The FBI being involved and lying about their (non)involvement? Sure, the TSA has had some bad moments but Mr. Mukerjee’s story involves a giant conspiracy also involving the NYPD and the FBI. I suspect the TSA’s story isn’t the whole truth but I also doubt Mr. Mukerjee’s story about the NPYD and FBIs involvement

  35. The police and other security staff don’t generally mind trying to figure out how “aggressive” a target is or trying to make a target come across as “aggressive”; and that is done quite often by the authorities in order to try to justify their unwarranted aggressive behavior against a subject whom they’ve already flagged for whatever reason, good or bad, that the authorities have. When it comes to the TSA screening checkpoints and the voodoo “security” practiced by BDOs who flag down a targeted individual, bad reasons from the authorities tend to be far more frequently the case than good reasons in such kinds of situations.

    By the way, there are lots of “brown” ethnic minorities flying out of JFK who don’t report a problem with racist profiling and/or just because there are “brown” ethnic minorities working for federal government agencies at JFK — that doesn’t mean that racist profiling is non-existent at JFK. There were lots of “brown” ethnic minorities flying out of BOS and that airport was a hot spot for racist profiling and racist profiling advocates too even as there were “brown” ethnic minorities working there too.

    While much of what this Bengali-American experienced and reported is a direct result of the ETD alarms at JFK, it’s doubtful that everything he experienced was a result of ETD alarms and nothing more. It’s doubtful that all the blame for this situation rests on him, but the authorities involved certainly have an incentive to try to sell that story (to blame him) and find people to re-sell it for them too. This blog is doing a good job of that. Sources in the government like to contribute to those who will — wittingly or otherwise — play their game for them.

  36. It is anything but unheard of for the FBI to be involved in such situations of repeated ETD alarms. They aren’t always on site and don’t always note down the information they have provided or provide back about a person, however the involvement may still be there.

    If the government really wants to know what — if anything — the FBI did with the passenger’s name and info after the ETDs repeatedly alarmed, wouldn’t there be access and query log searches that go well beyond looking for the kind of reports that this blogger is indicating as not to be found? Oh wait, this is the same government that is still struggling to figure out what information the whistleblower Snowden has and could share. But the FBI isn’t Snowden and the FBI isn’t the NSA.

  37. The truth, as in many cases like this, lies somewhere in between. It’s interesting that it took Mr. Mukerjee 19 days to post such an outrageous story. I mean if I went through an ordeal like this I’d be going off about it as soon as I’m able. He was back home after a week. It took him two more to get around to posting this. It’s somewhat curious.

    I wouldn’t say the TSA is completely blameless in this, but it’s hard to fathom why there would be some sort of cover-up of an ultimately non-threatening situation. Mr. Mukerjee was detained because he put up a false positive ETD (I’ve been through this myself. It’s not that uncommon). What followed appears to be a somewhat botched secondary investigation but ultimately Mr. Mukerjee was let go. At some point in the ordeal he was pissed off and combative (naturally) so JetBlue said “you can’t fly with us today, sorry” as is their right.

    In the end I think there is some truth to the stories on both sides: Mr. Mukerjee was detained. He probably got annoyed. He ultimately was told he couldn’t take his original flight, got a refund and had to shell out more cash to fly a different airline. But I would venture to guess some of the ridiculous questioning, the amount of time detained, the involvement of the FBI, were embellished.

  38. I would also become agitated if I was being detained for several hours and questioned by TSA clowns while trying to visit my family.

  39. Thanks for the effort you’ve made to gather this information and to appear objective, but I still have questions about this incident that haven’t been clarified.

    1) Who was the Hindi-speaking interrogator and why was he brought in? Mr. Mukerjee seems to be an American citizen who is perfectly fluent in English. Why would they assume he speaks Hindi/would need a Hindi translator?

    2) Your primary sources of information appear to be official reports and your unnamed sources, all of whom are not immune from bias. As others have noted, it doesn’t take a lot of collusion or coordination to skew events that someone’s behavior was “aggressive and belligerent” when one is trying to portray oneself as being right. Were there any statements from witnesses who were not Mr. Mukerjee or an employee of the airport, airline, or government agencies involved? Or video?

    3) Were you able to contact the JetBlue security person who made the call to deny him boarding? Unless that person is willing to go on record and say that the questions Mr. Mukerjee says he was asked never happened, your skepticism or that of your sources is not compelling proof.

    Ultimately, this seems like a “he said/they said” situation, and the truth is probably some mix of these two narratives. Regardless of his misidentification of the agencies who interrogated him, I think his point is that people with power over him treated him pretty badly, whether he deserved it or not.

    Since none of this was JetBlue’s fault up until their decision to deny him the service he paid for, JetBlue could have been a hero here and said, “Look, we’re really sorry this happened to you. You seem really angry and we’re concerned about you flying today.” Instead they told him, “We’re scared of you and think, like a drunk, you need a time-out.” Whatever irrational behavior they were afraid of apparently wasn’t a problem on the carrier who flew him that same day.

  40. I am brown from India. I always opt out too. And find the TSA agents are always very respectful. I fly all the time and I have never ever felt profiled or singled out. Once I was flying back with some white friends from Italy and when we landed in the US all 4 of us were picked out for additional screening. One of the white people in my group was convinced that it was because I was brown. However, the agent told us that we had changed our flights at the last minute in Frankfurt and that flags us all for additional screening. This is true, we had accepted $$ from Lufthansa to take the next flight and they had printed us new boarding passes. It’s easy to rush to blame but if setting off explosive detection devices repeatedly, is not enough reason to have suspicion, what cue should the Transit Security Authority wait for without being called out on their behavior?

  41. I have mixed feelings about the who’s at fault in the story, but since all of your sources in your article are anonymous, I’m stuck at the same spot his story left me with. That is, to trust one guy that wrote a post on a web site. Get some people to put a name behind their version of this story and then you’ll actually have some journalism on your hands.

    The FOIA request link is helpful though. I can definitely follow up myself. But as is, your post is equally unhelpful in the end for having any sense of trust about what really happened.

  42. The “FBI Agent” was probably a local law enforcement member of the JTTF; in other similar stories, local LE who are members of the JTTF show up to do the ‘final’ interview and introduce themselves as working for/with the FBI even though they are just local LE.

    “Today, the JTTFs include more than 4,200 members nationwide—more than four times the pre-9/11 total—hailing from over 600 state and local agencies and 50 federal agencies (the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. military, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Transportation Security Administration, to name a few).” –FBI

    It seems to me less likely that the FBI involvement was embellished and more likely that the local LE officer introduced himself as with the FBI. That’s how it has gone in 3 cases I can think of just off the top of my head.

  43. ” False positives with ETD are not uncommon.”

    The fact is that the TSA has NEVER found explosives on ANY passenger. The TSA’s ETD is far too sensitive for the purpose it is being used and needs to be redesigned.

    Never, ever agree to going into a private room with the TSA. The reason they won’t do the resolution screening in public is because they are afraid of what might happen if the public sees them groping passenger’s gentials with the palms of their hands.

  44. NoMoreTSA

    The TSA has never stopped a person who was a terrorist or with the intent to commit terrorism, they have however stopped many items that fall under explosives ranging from bullets to claymore mines.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  45. JJ

    If you can find sources who are willing to give you their names while giving you info they are not allowed to share, then by all means, share the info. If you go through Flying With Fish you will find I have more than once published internal security directives, once before itw as released internally, and written about many things that have later come to light (or been picked up by other main stream media) accurately.

    I have my sources because I am neither for or against the TSA. My history with the agency should have me firmly against them for a variety of reasons, which I have mentioned in other replies, but having a bias for or against the agency would make what I do consistently impossible.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  46. Ari,

    The JTTF falls under the FBI and I have heard the people say they are with the JTTF, under the FBI, but I have never heard of an officer or special agent stating they were from any agency other than the one they were from.

    The JTTF Agents were from the Port Authority Police and there was a DHS Investigator who may or may not have been with the JTTF, it is unclear.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  47. Anyone who questions TSA actions or says “no” to them is immediately deemed to be “aggressive” and/or “uncooperative.”

  48. “The TSA has never stopped a person who was a terrorist or with the intent to commit terrorism, they have however stopped many items that fall under explosives ranging from bullets to claymore mines.”

    Oh, come on. Those things are NOT found by ETD screening. They are found by the baggage x-ray machines.

    I will reword my statement:

    The TSA has never found explosives through ETD screening.

  49. Fish,

    Writing for a newspaper does not a journalist make. Journalists do not repeat the party line without reviewing objective evidence. Journalists are a check on government, not its PR agency. Think Wikileaks, not Pravda on the Hudson.

    It’s that exact thinking that led us to the situation we are in today. So-called journalists are addicted to access, and are willing to sacrifice integrity for it, repeating whatever these unnamed sources tell them; sometimes as fact, sometimes authoritative information, or information on par with the quality of sourced, signed information. You did both in your piece above. This is not a he said, she said situation; it’s a he said, someone made something up situation. And, since you provide no sources, that someone is you.

    I enjoy your blog, but as entertainment. This sort of articles drives me away.

  50. […] Some guy who apparently thinks that the TSA is pretty awesome responded, here. […]

  51. Filipe

    If you read my blog you know I don’t tow anyone’s company line, you’d also know how often I lay into agencies. If you read my blog you’d know that I also don’t take sides, regardless of popular opinion. Maybe you should go back and search the blog again.

    Also this incident was on August 3rd, the incident is August 3rd, this story didn’t come to light until August 22nd. By the time I started looking into it there was no “company line” and there still is no “company line.” For the most part this is seen as a non-story.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  52. One issue I see is that the ETD testing process is flawed. The machines alert on chemicals that are used in explosives. However, these chemicals are also present in many other common household items such as soaps and lotions. I remember hearing a story about an airport that had a particular soap in its restrooms that caused everyone who used it prior to security to alarm. Also, there is the threat of contamination because the TSA didn’t change their gloves or improperly handled the swabs.

    The TSA hasn’t caught any terrorists with the ETD testing. They have only hassled and humiliated many travelers because their testing method is flawed.

  53. People on the JTTF do run around saying they work for the FBI JTTF; it’s mostly those who don’t work for the FBI that seem to tell innocent people they work for the FBI JTTF. For many people who are relatively unfamiliar with how the US “security” establishment operates, it leaves the impression that the person works for the FBI even when they are employed by someone else beside the FBI.

    Even some contractors working for the FBI JTTF seem to try to play that game.

  54. Just a quick point of clarification… No one has a *right* to fly. It is like driving. It is a privilege. And that privilege can be revoked when one does not comport themselves in an appropriate manner. Heck, that privilege can be revoked for any reason whatsoever, or no reason at all, provided it is not a patently prohibited reason.

    And whether it is moral or immoral, right or wrong at a meta level… being detained and questioned in the name of national security is *not* a violation of any rights. It may be inconvenient or irritating, it may even feel violative. But within the confines of the law… no violation has occurred. Screaming “my rights have been violated!” is certainly sensationalist, but helps no one when you have no idea what your actual “rights” are. All of these stories sound like they could be prevented with a solid course in Civics and an Etiquette class.

  55. Flying as a passenger on a common carrier is not a privilege in the way that driving your own car is. This passenger bought a valid ticket, a contract for transport. No license is needed to be a passenger on a domestic flight. A license is needed to drive a car. Big difference, but the apologists for abusive government and corporate power often try to make the ridiculous argument above about “flying is a privilege like driving”.

  56. Here’s the thing. Saying he was “aggressive”, saying he was “beligerent”… it’s irrelevant. It may or may not be true that he was in fact aggressive or beligerent. It’s not a conspiracy to believe he wasn’t; that’s just a stock answer from law enforcement in nearly all cases where it’s a dispute. It’s been seen time and time again, and even when video disproves, the law enforcement officer will continue to insist that the suspect was, in fact, beligerent and aggressive.

  57. Regarding the “denied” glass of water. It doesn’t appear that the officials denied the guy water but just blew off his request:

    “”Is this a medical emergency? Are you going to pass out? Do we need to call an ambulance?” he asked, skeptically. His tone was almost mocking, conveying more scorn than actual concern or interest.
    “No,” I responded. I’m not sure why I said that. I was lightheaded enough that I certainly felt like I was going to pass out.
    “Are you diabetic?”
    “No,” I responded.
    Again he repeated the familiar refrain. “We’ll get you out of here in a few minutes.”

    If he felt like he was going to pass out, he should have said so. He said no, perhaps out of politeness or manhood and so he owns that. Yes, I know the authorities sometimes use the “we’ll get you out of here in a few minutes” to string people along, but he didn’t have to buy that spiel. He could have said: “I need a drink of water NOW or I may become ill!”

  58. Fish,

    That was precisely my point. Mr. Mukerjee’s account of being interviewed by the FBI might have been caused by “Hello, I’m XXXX with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, can I ask you some questions?” combined with a half-second badge flash after over an hour of being detained in a room. That’s more or less how things went in the George case. And in one other case I can think of. People leave the conversation thinking they talked to an FBI agent when it was just local JTTF guy(s).

    As for confusing PANYNJPD for NYPD, well . . . come on.

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